Why Teaching English Abroad Might Not be For You

By: Casey Siemasko

So you want to travel the world. Get out of your comfort zone. Discover new things, meet different people, taste exotic flavors. Maybe you’re a veteran frequent flier. Or perhaps this is your first time with passport in stow. Regardless, you’ve got the itch, and the only way to cure that infectious travel bug is by going somewhere. Anywhere. Now.

But then that pesky thing called money comes up, and you realize you need a way to fund your novel and foreign life. A quick Google search and the obvious solution pops up. Why yes! Teaching. You’ll be a good ol’ English teacher. High demand, high pay, and basic requirements—what could go wrong?

Well, this is where I come in, superhero cape and all, to warn that maybe teaching English isn’t actually for you. And here’s why:

Nearly two years ago, my husband and I stuffed our suitcases to the brim and set off across the world. A fourteen-hour plane ride and four movies later we touched down in Taiwan, ready to change lives and inspire young minds with the power of English. We didn’t know anything about Taiwan, could speak about five words of Mandarin, and had only been married for two months. And you know what happened? We fell in love with Taiwan. Like, head-over-heels enamored by it. Teaching has been an amazing experience for us, and we will forever be changed by the relationships we have developed with our co-teachers and students.

But unfortunately that’s not the way it works out for everyone. We’ve lost count of how many foreigners have come to Taiwan and told us that they hate it. Why? Nine times out of ten it is because they detest teaching. But if you go to Taiwan—or anywhere for that matter—to teach English, that’s what you’ll be spending most of your time doing. It’s just the reality of it. Factors such as work hours, student age level, and curriculum certainly affect your job, and it’s important to access where you stand on those things. But underneath all the nitty-gritty details, you need to think to yourself: Do I have any desire to teach? It doesn’t mean you’re committing your life to chalkboards and textbooks. It doesn’t mean you spent your life dreaming of academia. It doesn’t even mean you’ve had any experience standing in front of a classroom. What it does mean is that somewhere inside is the inkling to teach. And the idea of trying to explain the mixed-up, nonsensical English language doesn’t make you dry heave in the mornings.

If you can honestly tell yourself that the thought of being an English teacher might be the least bit appealing, then by all means buy your plane ticket and start teaching English today. But if you happen to be gagging a little while picturing yourself explaining the nine different pronunciations of ‘ough’, then maybe reconsider. I don’t mean reconsider traveling; there are lots of other ways to fund travel, and I am the first to advocate the long-term benefits of slow, meaningful world exploration. Location independent careers, working holidays, and Peace Corps are a few options that at least warrant some research. I do mean think again about teaching. Because contrary to what my friends back home might believe, teaching English isn’t the same as study abroad or an extended holiday. Teaching English is a job. And in the end, it’s not fair to the student who gets the uninterested teacher or the school that hires the disgruntled employee. And it’s not fair to yourself to commit a year of your life to something that doesn’t interest you from the start.

With the right mindset, teaching English can be an amazing opportunity. You will discover skill sets you never knew you had; you will gain confidence speaking and presenting ideas in front of others. Maybe that initial spark to teach will even kindle into an insatiable flame. And there will surely be a time when the light bulb goes off in your student’s head, and you know that illumination had to do with something you did to flip the switch. That’s a powerful feeling. But if you dread coming to work every day, you won’t see that light bulb. And soon this negativity from teaching will manifest into all areas of your expat life. Remember how you wanted to discover new things, meet different people, and taste exotic flavors? More than likely you will forget about all that. In its place there will only be snotty and whiny children keeping you from your wonderful and perfect life back home.

With that in mind, if you find yourself still searching for ESL jobs abroad, I do highly recommend Taiwan. In the midst of stunning scenery, amazingly hospitable people, traditional Chinese culture and just the right touch of Western amenities, you really can’t go wrong (provided you’ve done the dry heaving test). Now that’s it for me. Time has come for me to take off my superhero cape and step down from my pedestal because I’m off to write a Peter Pan script for 19 adorable kindergarteners. Broadway better watch out-these Taiwanese five year olds are comin’ for ya!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCasey Siemasko is an American expat living in Taiwan. Blog description: Stories from two lovebirds traveling the world; currently calling Taiwan home
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